In the first few years of a young couple’s relationship, it is common for each person to try to determine whether their partner will make them and the relationship a priority in their life. They want to strengthen the commitment to each other. They are often testing each other to see who comes first their friends, their parents/family or their relationship.The relationship’s priority becomes particularly important when they are apart from each other. Each needs to know how trustworthy the other is. For example, if either has been used to having a ‘boys/girls weekend or night out’ they usually want to negotiate some new terms. They often want to know who will be going and what will they be doing. They may put restrictions on what is acceptable now that they are in a committed relationship or marriage. Working this out is an important relationship-building activity. When constructive, this negotiation process builds trust. Trust is the cornerstone of all good and secure relationships.
Happy long-term couples know that mutual trust is what lets them feel safe with each other, deepens their love, allows friendship to grow and sexual intimacy to flourish. A couple’s strong mutual trust indicates how much they are ‘in this together’ and how much they ‘have each other’s back’. When a partner is viewed as trustworthy by the other, it indicates that they are willing to sacrifice for the relationship and put their own personal needs aside for the sake of it. When they ask the questions: ‘Will you choose your friends or family over me when I need you?’ or ‘Will you be here when I am emotionally upset?’ or ‘Will you be sexually faithful to me?’, they know with certainty the answer will be yes.
In contrast, unhappy couples, with little trust, (even those who insist they are in love with their partners), are prone to get into more arguments than happy couples who trust each other. The kinds of quarrels unhappy couples have are far more nasty and distressing than the fewer quarrels that happy, trusting couples have. While this may not be a surprise, it does not make any sense logically. One might think that the negative experience of quarrelling would lead to engaging in quarrels less often, however, this absorbed state of emotional negativity perpetuates the quarrelling and mistrust.
These findings about the contrasting differences in happy couples who are trusting and loyal with the unhappy betrayed and mistrustful couples comes from John Gottman’s research as outlined in his book What Makes Love Last: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal. His early research was able to predict whether a couple will be together or divorced in 15 years by analysis of an hour of observation of them. His more recent research is focused on how to turn unhappy couples into happy couples through the establishment or rebuilding of trust.
How to Rebuild Trust When it is Very Low
Gottman has outlined three ways for unhappy couples to stay out of the negative absorbing emotional state so they can begin to rebuild trust.
Learn Attunement Skills
When couples understand each other at a deep level and lovingly express their intimacy to each other, attunement exists. For some, it comes naturally, usually because they were raised by emotionally attuned parents. Fortunately, it can be learned.
- Put your feelings into words.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Follow up with statements that deepen connection.
- Express empathy and compassion.
Turn Toward Each Other
Happy trusting couples miss fewer opportunities when their partner makes bids for connection. Whether it’s a trivial comment or a desire to sit and have a serious conversation, building trust requires you to pay attention to what your partner is saying and respond in some way. Avoidance, ignoring or stonewalling cause mistrust. Turning toward your partner tells them you are there for them and they can count on you.
Learn How to Deal with Conflict Constructively
- Take turns to speak and listen – The speaker shows awareness, tolerance, and transforms criticisms into wishes and positive needs while the listener shows understanding, non-defensive listening, and empathy
- Persuade and problem solve – Once you are feeling understood you can share your point of view or position on a problem by using ‘I’ statements to avoid criticism. Find compromise which you can live with.
Trust can be broken in an instant. It can tale a long time to rebuild. Rebuilding trust takes a strong commitment and some of the practice of the skills described above to re-establish trust and stay out of the negative absorbing quarrels some couples get stuck in.